3 women smile after exercising together in the park.
Having greater amounts of the peptide humanin is closely correlated with longer lives and better health in both animals and humans, including lower risk for Alzheimer’s.
A new study led by researchers at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology is the first to demonstrate that a tiny protein has a big impact on health and longevity in both animals and humans.
The researchers examined humanin, a peptide encoded in the small genome of mitochondria — the powerhouses of the cell. From experiments in laboratory animals to measurements in human patients, the multi-site collaboration demonstrates how higher levels of humanin in the body are connected to longer lifespans and better health. It is linked to a lower risk for diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
“Humanin has long been known to help prevent many age-related diseases, and this is the first time that it has been shown that it can also increase lifespan,” said senior author Pinchas Cohen, professor of gerontology, medicine and biological sciences and dean of the USC Leonard Davis School.
An intriguing evolutionary history
Humanin has been found not only in human mitochondria but also throughout the animal kingdom, a sign that its related gene has been maintained, or conserved, throughout evolution. The study, which was published online in the journal Aging on June 23, examined humanin in several animal species, including worms and mice, as well as humans, including Alzheimer’s patients and children of centenarians.
The results highlight the potential for humanin and other mitochondrial proteins to become treatments for age-related ailments. They also indicate that humanin may be an ancient mitochondrial signaling mechanism that is key for regulating the body’s health and lifespan, said first author and USC Leonard Davis Research Assistant Professor Kelvin Yen.
More humanin, longer lifespans
Humanin levels have previously been observed to decrease with age in many species. In this new study, the scientists observed higher levels of humanin in organisms predisposed to long lives, including the famously age-resistant naked mole rat, which experiences only a very slow decline in levels of humanin circulating in the body throughout its 30-year lifespan.
In contrast, mice experience a 40% drop in humanin over the first 18 months of life, and primates such as rhesus macaques appeared to have a similarly dramatic drop in humanin between the ages of 19 and 25.
In humans, researchers observed this phenomenon of higher and more sustained levels of humanin in 18 children of centenarians, versus a control group of 19 children of non-centenarians. Individuals whose parents reach 100 years old are statistically more likely than other people to reach very old age.
In some species, including worms and mice, modifying their genes to produce higher amounts of humanin within their bodies was enough to significantly increase lifespans. But these longer-lived animals had fewer offspring. Scientists have observed a similar pattern in long-lived humans.
“This tradeoff between longevity and reproduction is thought to be due to an evolutionarily conserved balance between using energy to produce more offspring or using the energy to maintain the organism for future reproductive efforts,” Yen said. “Evolutionarily speaking, the goal of life is to reproduce and then you’re done, but if you can’t reproduce, you should try to hang around as long as possible, and a side effect of that is longevity.”
Indication of – and protection against – disease
Higher humanin levels aren’t just linked to increased lifespan; lower levels may increase the risk of disease and lower resistance to toxic exposures.
The researchers analyzed samples of cerebral spinal fluid from a small number of Alzheimer’s patients and control individuals without dementia and noticed that humanin levels were much lower in the Alzheimer’s patients. And in newborn cord blood samples, high levels of humanin correlated with a high mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) copy number, or the number of copies of the mitochondrial genome present within each cell.
“Humanin levels are inversely correlated with a decrease in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) copy number, which in itself has been associated with a number of different diseases such as cancer, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease,” Yen said.
Potential for treatments
Cohen’s laboratory was one of three groups that independently discovered humanin and has continued to unlock the secrets of the mitochondrial genome. Other promising mitochondrial peptides characterized by Cohen’s team include MOTS-c, which plays a role in communication between the mitochondria and the nucleus in cells and appears to mimic the effects of exercise.
This new wide-ranging study highlights the importance of humanin as a potentially powerful regulator of lifespan and health, and harnessing it for treatments could address a variety of age-related illnesses, Cohen said.
“This study, as well as many others, suggest that humanin administration would be an effective therapeutic treatment for a large number of diseases and further solidifies the importance of the mitochondria beyond its traditional role as the ‘powerhouse of the cell,’” he said.
The Latest Updates from Bing News & Google News
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- Guide to Howard County 2021: Health careon February 25, 2021 at 8:42 am
As the population of Howard County has grown, so have the health care resources available to residents. Howard County General Hospital, the county’s only general hospital, has increased in size ...
- This Week in Jobs DMV: Sweet Tooth Editionon February 17, 2021 at 10:11 am
Editor’s note: Every week we ship an email newsletter featuring the region’s most exciting career opportunities. We’ve lovingly called it This Week in Jobs (aka TWIJ — “twidge.”). Below is this week’s ...
- Horizon Foundation Awards $2.4M To HoCo Organizations In 2020on February 8, 2021 at 8:52 am
Humanim: $75,000 to support safe distancing for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities in residential programs, to provide personal protective equipment for staff and to ...
- Pinterest Selects Head of Social Impact and Philanthropyon February 5, 2021 at 7:52 am
Cindy Plavier-Truitt, chief business officer, has been installed as president and CEO of Humanim. She has served as interim CEO since Henry Posko retired in September. Todd Apo, senior vice president ...
- Power Moves: This week’s top hires and promotions at Humanim, JMI Equity and Catalyteon February 5, 2021 at 6:45 am
Got a new hire, new gig or promotion? Tell us: [email protected] Maryland social impact nonprofit Humanim has a new permanent leader. The Columbia-headquartered org announced this week that ...
Go deeper with Google Headlines on:
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- MetLife Completes $5 Billion Longevity Reinsurance Transactions with Rothesayon February 25, 2021 at 7:47 am
Metropolitan Tower Life Insurance Company, has closed its second and third longevity reinsurance transactions with Rothesay Life Plc, reinsuring approximately $5 billion of pension liabilities ...
- Webinar replay: Forecasting longevity whilst living in interesting timeson February 25, 2021 at 4:15 am
In the midst of so-called ‘interesting’ times it is easy to be pessimistic about the future. And while of course there is a risk that future longevity could be much higher or lower than we’re ...
- The Longevity of Romeo and Julieton February 25, 2021 at 4:00 am
With at least 12 film adaptations on its belt, and countless references in film and books, why is there such longevity to this tale?
- 105-Year-Old COVID Survivor Credits Longevity to Gin-Soaked Golden Raisinson February 24, 2021 at 9:47 am
"And [I] don't eat junk food," she added. But her granddaughter, Shawn Laws O'Neil, said that maybe there was something that helped DeClerk's lifespan stretch past the century mark: a daily serving of ...
- 105-year-old COVID-19 survivor shares her secret to longevityon February 24, 2021 at 8:15 am
A 105-year-old survivor of COVID-19 has a secret to longevity that might surprise you. New Jersey nursing home resident Lucia DeClerck turned 105 on Jan. 25, but she tested positive for the ...